Stage One Labour in the Mare

From the Horse Midwife

Hi everyone!

Man these monthly posts come round quickly!

Sadly I’m now back in New Zealand in the freezing cold winter – BUT – it’s July. And that means next month is August. And that means that next month foaling will start in the Thoroughbred world! Foaling season rolls around so quickly, but it’s definitely my favourite time of the year (minus the mares who foal in storms).

Since we’re nearly at the start of the foaling season it makes sense to look at the start of the foaling process.


Foaling is divided into three distinct ‘Stages of Labour; pre-partum, foaling, and post-partum. This post will deal with Stage 1 Labour.

The first stage – pre-partum stage – can last anywhere from minutes to days. It begins when the foal starts to move into the correct foaling session, and ends once the mare’s water has broken.

Mares have the ability (within reason) to control when they foal and have been known to ‘cross their legs’ in bad conditions or if they are stressed.

It is not uncommon to have multiple foalings on large farms in fine patches of an otherwise stormy night as the mares grasp their chance in the good weather (speaking from first hand experience here!).

Stage One labour can vary extraordinarily between individual mares. Some may display signs of discomfort for days, others only in the hours before they foal, where others may display nothing at all. This is why it is important to keep a record of your mare’s behaviour leading up to foaling – it may help in years to come if you breed her again!


Signs of foaling that begin too early can be warning signs. Vaginal discharges are a common symptom of placentitis. If untreated, placentitis can result in foetal abortion very quickly. Remember – if you are concerned always call a vet to double check.

Early signs, as well as no signs at all, are also common in first time foalers known as ‘maidens’. Maidens tend to have smaller udders and can often have no bag or wax and show no signs right up until foaling.

Similarly they can also look uncomfortable for days, even weeks before foaling, as the changes and sensations their bodies undergo as foaling approaches are very new and confusing for them. Maidens always require extra attentiveness when it comes to foaling.

A separate post has been written specifically dealing with maidens; check out Part 1 and Part 2 for more details.

Signs of Stage One labour can include (but are not limited to):

  • filling of the udder (normally occurs before Stage 1)
  • filling of the teats and waxing up of the udder (as the mare moves closer to foaling, normally still before Stage 1)
  • rolling
  • flank watching
  • pawing
  • sweating
  • pacing (walking very purposefully without going anywhere)
  • flehmen
  • kicking at their bellies
  • running milk
  • head tossing
  • loosening vulvas and
  • loosening/relaxation of posterior muscles
  • any other obvious changes in normal demeanour
  • general air of being uncomfortable and uneasy

As the mare gets closer to foaling you could expect to see more of these behaviours, and that the signs of foaling would be getting closer and closer together.


For the duration of the pregnancy the foal is upside down in the mare’s uterus. During Stage One the foal is moving into position and preparing itself for delivery and this is what causes the mare to become uncomfortable and display the signs and behaviours listed above.

The foal moves into an upright position with its front legs forward and its head on top of its legs. This position is checked in Stage Two and anything other than this is deemed to be a dystocia.

Stage 1 labour finishes when the mare’s water breaks – this is the beginning of Stage 2 Labour, which will be the subject of next month’s post.


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Until then, happy foaling all!

The Horse Midwife

P.S. please feel free to check out our Website ( or Facebook Support Group (


What signs does your mare show? Does she do the same things every year? Is there one sign that you KNOW means it’s foaling time? I’d love to hear about your experience from you so feel free to get in touch at  and remember – if there’s something you want to see just let me know!

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